One of my fondest memories as a child was watching Justice League with my father every Sunday night. My father is a lifelong comic book fan, and the two of us would have a great time enjoying the dramatic, funny, action-packed stories. Even as a child, I recognized that there was something very special about those half hour sagas; there was an honesty and a realism few other cartoons I watched could match.
I had glimpsed Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, as well as Batman Beyond from an early age, but Justice League was the first time I truly recognized the work of Bruce Timm. Bruce Timm is a veteran artist, director, and producer in animation, who formed the backbone of DC’s successful animated universe long before our recent superhero craze.
Bruce Timm got his start as an animator on a number of projects including He-Man and G.I. Joe and working under western animation rock stars Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth. Eventually, Timm ended up at Warner Bros. where he worked on Tiny Toon Adventures. He and collaborator Eric Radomski pitched an idea for a new animated Batman series which would draw from the gothic style of Tim Burton’s recent films along with the critically acclaimed 1940s Fleischer’s Superman cartoons. In 1992, Batman: The Animated Series premiered and kickstarted Timm’s lengthy career.
Over a prolific body of work, Timm has proven himself a true renaissance man. His noir style and angular, dynamic character designs still influence the comic and animation world today. Let’s not forget that he is also a talented director and producer who helped conceive a number of famous Batman, Superman, and Justice League stories, produced the popular animated Teen Titans, and helmed several films, including the critical darling Batman: Mask of The Phantasm. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s a real hidden gem and a nice change of pace from Christopher Nolan’s bat-saga.
To the point, Bruce Timm is a rare example of a creator who has worn many hats but has worn them well. While rising stars such as Rebecca Sugar or the duo of Konietzko and DiMartino have come close, I’ve yet to see another animation figurehead match Timm’s volume, quality, and consistency of work.
That said, success is not the sole reason I admire Timm, though it’s a big one. First and foremost, I always treasured the realism behind his characters. They may come off as too mature for a children’s cartoon today, but little touches such as Hawkgirl’s bafflement at religious faith, the candid acknowledgment of Green Lantern John Stewart’s race, or Batman’s surprising compassion have always struck a chord with me. Timm’s works have a humanity to them, a sense that these figures in tights are real people, which make their super-heroic feats all the more awesome. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this clip from Justice League and see if you don’t get teary eyed.
Finally, what I admire most about Timm is his tremendous, yet straightforward courage as a creator. It is easy to treat Timm’s works as masterpieces, but they were not always viewed as such. From the maturity and adult themes in Batman: The Animated Series to the idea of a futuristic teenage-Batman in Batman Beyond to the drastic format changes of Justice League: Unlimited, Timm’s works have always met a constant wall of rejection from executives and fans alike.
And yet, as evidenced in this interview and this comic from collaborator Giancarlo Volpe (showrunner on Green Lantern: The Animated Series, which Timm produced), Timm maintains a strong pioneering spirit in the face of critique and rejection. Without it, the idea of cartoons being a medium to tell mature, serious, artistic stories may have been snuffed out prematurely. There could be no Avatar the Last Airbender, Legend of Korra, Adventure Time, or Steven Universe without Timm. As someone who has been floored by rejection in the past, thinking about Timm’s attitude towards it, and what he’s accomplished, is something that sincerely gives me the strength to press on.
While a new generation of animation powerhouses may be at the forefront, I still continue to be inspired by Bruce Timm. At a time when media feels oversaturated with superheroes, his mature storytelling, distinct style, and courage in the face of rejection will always stand out to me.
Have a favorite Bruce Timm cartoon? Or is there another famous figure whose influenced you? Please share with us below in the comments! Until next time.
Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros. Animation